Bruins

How will Anders Bjork impact the Bruins?

How will Anders Bjork impact the Bruins?

It’s impossible to predict just exactly how good 20-year-old Anders Bjork is going to be with the Bruins next season.

He’s a very different player than the much-hyped Jimmy Vesey as a smaller, faster winger with a tiny bit of grit built into his game, and that might play to his advantage at the NHL level. Vesey struggled at times while making the jump from NCAA straight to the NHL, and finished with 16 goals and 27 points along with a minus-13 rating in 80 games for the Rangers. But the Notre Dame standout will need to prove, just as Bruins prospects Brandon Carlo and Charlie McAvoy did, that minimal or zero training time in the AHL is required to hack it in the National Hockey League. 

“I was very fortunate to get drafted by the Bruins and it’s pretty cool that I’ve done well enough to earn a contract with such a prestigious organization. So, it’s one thing to sign an NHL contract, but it’s another to sign it with an organization like the Boston Bruins that has so much history and is so prestigious,” said Bjork, the former fifth round pick after signing earlier this week. “Yeah, I’m very excited. I know I’ve got a lot of work ahead of me, but I think it’s a challenge that I’m ready to face and think I can handle.

“Obviously, there’s a ton of good prospects and young players in the organization so it’s going to be tough to earn a spot on the Bruins, in Boston. I think I know that I’m going to be training really hard. I plan to work a lot on my strength and stuff like that and just anything I can do to give myself a better shot at making the team, I think I’m going to do. It’s going to take a lot of effort. But, it’s a great opportunity. I’m excited about that and that’s definitely going to drive me this summer.”

The 21 goals and 52 points and level of dominance at Notre Dame for the 6-foot, 180-pound Bjork are good indicators he could be ready right away, but then again he looked fairly average in his five game stint for Team USA at the World Championships compared to Frank Vatrano starring for a bare bones American roster just a year prior. 

So let’s just say hypothetically that Bjork shows enough in training camp to win a top-6 job with the Bruins out of training camp, and starts the year riding shotgun on the left side with David Krejci and David Pastrnak on Boston’s second line. It’s not the traditional power forward bookends that Krejci has thrived with in the past during the Cup years with Milan Lucic and Nathan Horton, but the Czech center is the kind of smart passer that can throw passes into space to utilize the speed of players like Pastrnak and Bjork on either side. 

Krejci and Pastrnak combined for 57 goals last season, so they’re going to command a ton of attention from defenses in the kind of setup that could Bjork lots of room to operate, create and find his offensive effectiveness at the NHL level. That goes doubly so if a 31-year-old Krejci can regain a little more speed and explosiveness one year removed from his hip surgery, and after a summer of health and full workouts. 

If Bjork can be a 15-20 goal player that exerts pressure on opponents with his skating speed and ability to finish, that in turn will give the Bruins a pair of heavily armed and dangerous forward lines at the top of their roster. It’s something the Bruins didn’t have last season when there were stretches when a jam-packed trio of Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron and Pastrnak were providing all of the offense for the B Black and Gold, and therefore easier to stop when all opponents needed to do was focus on shutting them down. 

Ideally the addition of Bjork, or perhaps Jake DeBrusk or even AHL playoff standout Danton Heinen if they beat out the Notre Dame star in a training camp battle that could be interesting to watch, will bring the kind of balance Boston hasn’t enjoyed over the last couple of seasons. That in turn would allow players like Vatrano and David Backes to slot in where they’re better-served as third line performers, and could truly make Boston a much more consistently dangerous offensive group. 

Here’s what the Bruins lines could look like in September: 

 

Marchand-Bergeron-Heinen/DeBrusk

Bjork-Krejci-Pastrnak

Vatrano-Forsbacka Karlsson-Backes

Beleskey-Nash-Acciari

 

On paper it’s exciting and could really become a Bruins team ready to make a big jump next season with players like Bjork up front and 20-year-old Charlie McAvoy on the back end, but both youngsters will also need some time to develop, make mistakes and round out their games while learning on the NHL job. It will be an environment conducive to that with Bruce Cassidy behind the Boston bench and with a GM like Don Sweeney that cut his NHL executive teeth in the draft/development game that’s so important these days at the NHL level. 

But getting back to the Vesey example from the very beginning, let’s not put too much pressure on Bjork to be a world-beating winger right out of the starting gate at the NHL level. It may take a couple of years for a young player to figure out how his skills fit best at the next level, and doing that amid expectations of production can be very challenging. 

The Bruins are a couple of years away, if all goes right, from potentially developing back into Stanley Cup contenders, and next season should be about prospect development and taking another progressive step team-wise after pushing back into the postseason. Anything else will be gravy whether it’s Bjork, DeBrusk, Senyshyn, McAvoy or any other of the myriad Bruins prospects poised to take Boston places a couple of years down the line with an organization flush with young talent.  

NHL Power Rankings: Bubble starting to burst for Cinderella teams

powerrankings.jpg

NHL Power Rankings: Bubble starting to burst for Cinderella teams

The bubble is beginning to burst for some of the Cinderella teams out of the starting gate around the NHL. The Kings have lost four games in a row and look like the offense is again becoming a problem, the Rangers are back to losing after an extended winning streak, and both the Flyers and Stars have dropped three games in a row after decent starts to their seasons amid low expectations.

There are still a few other teams like the New Jersey Devils, Detroit Red Wings, Winnipeg Jets and Vegas Golden Knights, among others, that are bucking expectations and defying convention thus far. It will take a bit more sustained success before people are truly ready to buy in on them this season. Until that happens they remain a nice little story among the true contenders vying for league dominance.  

Anyway, without further ado here are this week’s preseason power rankings:

1.  Tampa Bay Lightning (regular season record: 15-2-2, rank last week: 2) – The Bolts are on another five-game winning streak, and continue to serve notice that they were the sorta new, sorta old sheriff in the Eastern Conference. First in the NHL in goals scored, second in goals against and second in power play is some pretty amazing performance.

2.  St. Louis Blues (14-5-1, rank last week: 1) – Brayden Schenn and Jordan Schwartz are the top two scorers for a Blues team that’s fought their way to the top of the Central Division. While that’s a great story in St. Louis, it does raise questions about how long they can sustain that over the course of a full hockey season.

3.  Winnipeg Jets (11-4-3, rank last week: 5) – Three wins in a row and one regulation loss in the last 10 games for a Jets team that seems to finally be getting it. Mark Schiefele has really become a difference-maker in Winnipeg.

4. Toronto Maple Leafs (13-7-0, rank last week: 6) – The Maple Leafs have won five games in a row without Auston Matthews, which is a pretty impressive feat for such a young group. It does appear like it could also be a season of streaks for a Toronto club that’s shown both extremes already this season.

5. New Jersey Devils (11-4-3, rank last week: 7) – The New Jersey home for wayward Bruins has been pretty good thus far with both Drew Stafford and Jimmy Hayes making the most of their next opportunity after varying degrees of success in Boston… very varying.

6. Los Angeles Kings (11-6-2, rank last week: 3) – The Kings have hit a bit of a wall with four losses in a row where they’ve scored a grand total of six goals while looking much more like last season’s bunch of Kings. Jonathan Quick will keep them in those games now that he’s healthy again, but you’re not going to win if you can’t score.

7. Columbus Blue Jackets (12-7-1, rank last week: 8) – The Blue Jackets have bounced back from four losses in a row to win three games in a row where they needed to grind it out with an on-his-game Sergei Bobrovsky. That’s pretty much how it’s going to go for Columbus.   

8. Pittsburgh Penguins (11-7-3, rank last week: 4) – Phil Kessel is leading the Penguins in scoring and Sidney Crosby has been merely okay offensively (six goals in 21 games) with a minus-12 on the season. Has the whole world of the Penguins turned upside down or what?

9. Vegas Golden Knights (11-6-1, rank last week: 9) – The long goaltending nightmare is over for Vegas as it appears that Malcolm Subban is approaching a return to the lineup. Credit to the Golden Knights for holding things together while the injuries played out, and continuing to defy the odds of what they could do this season.   

10. Nashville Predators (10-6-2, rank last week: 10) – The Predators are 5-1-1 in Music City and once again making that a tough place to play for opponents. Certainly the sight of PK Subban in a cowboy hat during pregame warm-ups is sign that the Predators players are fully buying into what’s going on in Nashville, and that makes them a very formidable opponent.

11.   New York Islanders (10-6-2, rank last week: 11) – The Isles have won a couple of games in a row and appear to have hit their stride while slowly moving up the Metro Division ranks. That they’ve done with so-so seasons for Jordan Eberle and Andrew Ladd certainly says plenty about other guys stepping up.  

12. Ottawa Senators (8-4-5, rank last week: 13) – Nobody has played fewer games in the NHL than the Senators, and they are just outside a playoff spot after adding Matt Duchene to their lineup. I’d say things are looking pretty good for Ottawa and where they’re set up at this point in the season.

13. San Jose Sharks (10-7-0, rank last week: 20) – The Sharks are the best defensive team in the NHL, and have the second-best penalty kill in the league this season. That’s certainly a change from the past for the Sharks, but they remain, as ever, in the hunt for the playoffs.

14. Detroit Red Wings (10-8-2, rank last week: 19) – It’s less than a week before Thanksgiving and the Red Wings are in a playoff spot. It’s a big question if they can sustain what they’ve built up this far and they do have three or four games on much of their Atlantic Division competition, but they are in a better spot than anybody could have imagined at this point.

15. Minnesota Wild (9-7-2, rank last week: 26) – The Wild have won four games in a row as Devan Dubnyk is starting to get his stuff together, and are once again in the mix in the Central Division as they seemingly always have been over the recent past.

16. Chicago Blackhawks (9-8-2, rank last week: 24) – The Blackhawks have been jolted back to life by rookie Alex DeBrincat pumping up the offense to support the longtime veteran core. They’ve won two of their last three games and scored 15 goals in those three games as well.

17. Calgary Flames (10-8-0, rank last week: 12) – The Flames have won five of their last seven games, but also gave up eight goals to the Red Wings in their last loss. Jaromir Jagr has been pretty okay since getting healthy for the Flames, so the legend keeps on growing.

18. Washington Capitals (10-9-1, rank last week: 18) – The Capitals are 24th in the NHL in goals against and Braden Holtby has been pretty ordinary for the Capitals this season. It sure feels like they’ve lost a little something defensively this season, which doesn’t bode well for their Cup chances.

19.  Vancouver Canucks (9-8-2, rank last week: 15) – All three of their leading scorers are young, talented forwards, so at least the Canucks have that going for them…which is nice. But the Sedins have five goals and a combined 15 points in 38 games, and it appears the end may be nearing for the Swedish twins.

20.  Colorado Avalanche (9-7-1, rank last week: 21) – It feels like Gabriel Landeskog and Nathan MacKinnon have both played much better since the Matt Duchene train left the station. Maybe that’s a coincidence, but it doesn’t feel like it for whatever reason.

21. Philadelphia Flyers (8-6-0, rank last week: 14) – The Flyers have scored a grand total of one goal in their last three games, which is also a three-game losing streak for the Broad Street Bullies. Who would have guessed that offense would be a major issue for this group?

22. Anaheim Ducks (8-7-3, rank last week: 17) – The Ducks have points in four of their last five games, and finally seem to be pulling things together a month into the season. This isn’t the same team that was a Western Conference powerhouse a couple of years ago, but they can still be a heavy, formidable foe on any given night.

23. New York Rangers (9-9-2, rank last week: 16) – The bad news for the Rangers is that the six-game winning streak is in the rearview mirror. The good news is that Rick Nash seems to have found his game, and is producing offense for a Blueshirts group that needs everything they can get.

24. Boston Bruins (7-7-4, rank last week: 23) – The Bruins, through injuries and major inexperience, are slowly sliding down into oblivion before Thanksgiving, and are going to need to find some things to hang their hat on if they want to survive the month of November.  

25. Dallas Stars (9-9-1, rank last week: 22) – The Stars are 2-4-1 in the month of November, and have been outscored 24-7 in the losses this month. It really feels like there is a compete problem in Big ‘D’ where they shouldn’t be getting dominated like that from a talent standpoint.

26. Montreal Canadiens (8-10-2, rank last week: 25) – While it’s good that Charlie Lindgren has stepped up and been pretty good for the Habs in an emergency-type situation, it’s an absolute disaster that Carey Price is banged up again for Montreal. This is a season where everything that could go wrong pretty much has for the Habs.

27. Carolina Hurricanes (7-6-4, rank last week: 27) – The Hurricanes have taken seven of their last 10 points, but it’s not really making much of a dent in the Metro Division. The one truly encouraging sign has been some very good goaltending from Scott Darling and Cam Ward.

28. Edmonton Oilers (7-10-2, rank last week: 28) – The Oilers seemed like they might be pulling out of their early-season funk, but then lost four of their last five games to stick close to the Pacific Division basement. It’s been a rough start for Cam Talbot, and that’s been one of the big differences for the Oil.   

29. Florida Panthers (7-9-2, rank last week: 30) – You have to wonder where the Panthers would be if they hadn’t brought in a player like Evgenii Dadonov, who has been one of the best offensive players on the team this year. That’s a nice win for Florida’s management group to get him back in the fold this season.

30. Buffalo Sabres (5-10-4, rank last week: 29) – So many sticks to break for Jack Eichel, so little time.

31. Arizona Coyotes (3-15-3, rank last week: 31) – The Coyotes have gone 3-5-2 in their last 10 games. That is considered a major roll for them, so they have to be getting pretty excited out in the desert.

NBC SPORTS BOSTON SCHEDULE

Bruins will play Blackhawks in 2019 NHL Winter Classic at Notre Dame

boston-bruins-montreal-canadiens-pk-subban-winter-classic-10116.jpg

Bruins will play Blackhawks in 2019 NHL Winter Classic at Notre Dame

The Bruins will once again be taking things outdoors and participating in their third Winter Classic in franchise history, but for the first time they won’t be hosting the NHL’s centerpiece event. The B’s announced on Saturday afternoon that they’ll be facing off against the Chicago Blackhawks in the 2019 Winter Classic that will be played at iconic Notre Dame Stadium. Both the Bruins and Blackhawks aren’t exactly strangers to the outdoor showcase, and per usual the Black and Gold are happy to be part of a big deal event for the league.

“The Boston Bruins are excited to be playing in the 2019 Bridgestone Winter Classic against another storied Original Six franchise, the Chicago Blackhawks,” said Bruins President Cam Neely, in a press release. “The rich history of Notre Dame Stadium is well documented, and our team looks forward to playing at such an iconic venue. We hope that by participating in these large scale and unique NHL events we can bring Bruins fans new hockey experiences, and that we can use these opportunities to help grow our great game and attract new fans.”

There will be some natural storylines for the game including the rematch of the 2013 Stanley Cup Final participants, and a return to Notre Dame for Fighting Irish forward Anders Bjork after playing three seasons in South Bend. The Bruins/Blackhawks Winter Classic matchup was first reported by Barstool Sports almost two weeks ago, but it wasn’t until Saturday that any of the officials involved were ready to confirm the game.

The Bruins will be in their third Winter Classic after hosting the Jan. 1 outdoor game at Fenway Park in 2010 in an overtime win over the Philadelphia Flyers, and at Gillette Stadium in 2016 in a blowout loss to the Montreal Canadiens.  It is a league-most fourth Winter Classic appearance for the Blackhawks, who hosted the Detroit Red Wings at Wrigley Field in 2009, took on the Washington Capitals at Nationals Park in 2015, and most recently played the St. Louis Blues at Busch Stadium in 2017.